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The Role of Engineering Technologies: Virtual Prototyping

By: Brian Bell, Peter Spicka and Aniruddha Mukhopadhyay
Posted: October 14, 2008, from the May 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

Computer-aided engineering (CAE) is the enabling of a comprehensive analysis environment across the entire range of products and associated processes. CAE encompasses several components: computer rendering of product geometries via tools such as computer-aided design (CAD), computational structural dynamics (CSD) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). These tools facilitate the rendering, visualization, analysis and selection of different candidate products or processes before conducting any lab or plant scale trials. Hence, the concept of virtual prototyping of the engineering processes in the cosmetic industry evolved in the late 1990s—driven by the demands of quality, cost and time-to-market.

Most products in the cosmetic industry are liquids, emulsions, aerosols, powders and crystals, and the manufacturing processes are significantly dominated by fluids of different configurations.1 Thus, virtual experimentation in cosmetic product manufacturing and performance analyses involves computer simulation of fluid flow physics, chemistry and even advanced issues such as surface chemistry, electrostatics, granulation, dermatology and epidemiology. Such virtual tools are enabled within the scope of CFD.

CFD is complementary to the experimentation and testing techniques traditionally used to develop and manufacture a product. An upstream CFD analysis often optimizes subsequent pilot plant trials as well as scale-up. It also helps in the product development process to rule out unfeasible designs and identify problems before actual trials. Apart from being nonintrusive and not requiring construction of any physical equipment or test lines, CFD offers both qualitative and quantitative insight into flows or equipment where testing is difficult or impossible.

Engineering Challenges in Cosmetics and Toiletries

Cosmetic products often require chemists’ formulations to be tested on target skins and other physiological entities, such as hair and nails. There are corresponding manufacturing issues as well—scale-up, packaging, delivery mechanisms and cost optimization. Proper mixing of ingredients, often with complex material properties, is critical to the final product quality. For many products, this may require understanding of mixing behavior on multiple scales—micromixing, mesomixing and macromixing.

Additional challenges are faced when mixing applications involve crystallization, solids suspension, powder mixing and liquid-liquid mixing.